Car gathering dust – or perhaps snow – on the driveway? Once our horizons are finally stretched beyond the shop at the end of the street, get back behind the wheel on these brilliant British road trips.
1. North Wessex Downs
Forget the booked-solid Cotswolds, you’ll find vales and villages as postcard-worthy a short hop south in the North Wessex Downs. Duck off the M4 at Yattendon for beers at West Berkshire Brewery’s taproom, before a proper pub dinner – think slow-roasted shoulder of lamb – at the handsome Royal Oak, which also has rooms overlooking the village square (royaloakyattendon.co.uk).
Onwards south, to saunter through Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle, and stroll across chalky Watership Down, before turning westwards for Great Bedwyn. Here you’ll find the steam-powered Crofton Beam Engines alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal’s highest point; book a Steam Experience and you can stoke their boiler (croftonbeamengines.org).
Follow the canal west to Devizes, home to the Victorian Wadworth Brewery, still delivering ales by shire horse. Narrowboat cruises run from Devizes Wharf, while the Peppermill has cosy rooms just off the surprisingly grand Market Place (peppermilldevizes.co.uk). Finally, loop back north, pausing to lay your palms on prehistory at Avebury stone circle, Britain’s largest.
2. Norfolk’s north Coast
Want the beach but not the sardine-tin crowds of summer 2020? Norfolk’s northern coast is the answer: a line-up of vast sands and blustery nature reserves where you’ll likely see more birds than people. Head eastwards from Hunstanton, following the A149 to Holme Dunes for barn-owl-spotting on the marshes, before overnighting in Brancaster, known for its mussels and oysters. The White Horse has both, alongside seaview rooms (whitehorsebrancaster.co.uk).
You can’t miss Holkham beach, literally, its sands movie-closing-sequence epic (as seen in Shakespeare in Love) and can test your crabbing skills at Wells-next-the-Sea. Nearby, the Harper is new for 2021 and has unstuffy rooms and unfussy food (theharper.co.uk).
Blakeney Point hosts England’s largest grey seal colony, with more than 3,000 pups born here last winter; boat trips visit them from Morston Quay. Further east steam trains chug along the Poppy Line between Sheringham and Holt, giving drivers a chance to take in the coastal scenery before the final stretch to Cromer for fish and chips on the pier.
3. The Dee Valley
For horde-free Welsh hiking, swerve Snowdonia in favour of the Dee Valley. Detour first to Chirk Castle on the Welsh-English border, a 13th-century fortress with grounds home to wild ponies and a well-preserved section of Offa’s Dyke. Then follow the Dee westwards, stopping at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, where narrowboats cross the river on a canal almost 40 metres high.
The Dee meanders to Corwen – where the Corwen Giant Trail with its oversized artworks is ideal for families – and feeds into Llyn Tegid, Wales’ largest lake. Bed down at Glan Y Gro in a self-contained suite with lakefront balcony (glan-y-gro.com) before looping back eastwards through the Berwyn range, a peak-packed landscape that also does a fine line in burbling rivers and pretty waterfalls. Don’t miss Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wales’ highest falls, and if you’re up for a proper hike make it to the summit of Cadair Berwyn, an 832-metre peak accessed from Llanarmon.
4. The Northumberland 250
This newly-defined touring route loops along the North Sea and inland through remote countryside. Tick off its big-hitters first – blustery Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands’ puffins – before shaking off the coastal crowds and heading south into the North Pennines. Stop off at Derwent Reservoir for a wildfowl-spotting walk or open water swim before pausing at Sycamore Gap in Hadrian’s Wall, a lone tree standing sentry amid Roman remains.
The highlight is yet to come: a stargazing stay in Kielder Forest, where you can spot planets and shooting stars in the dark sky park, bedding down in a yurt with al fresco bathtub at Wild Northumbrian (wildnorthumbrian.co.uk). Finally, take the 12-mile Kielder Forest Drive for big sky views and a sense of the off-road (it’s unsealed) before crossing the Scottish border to Kelso, a pretty village with some imposing abbey ruins.
5. The Outer Hebrides
Escape the British mainland for an island-hopping adventure. After docking in Stornoway, cross the peatlands to Callanish standing stones (thought to be older than Stonehenge) before turning south for Harris, home to Scotland’s most Caribbean-like beaches. Everyone’s heard of Luskentyre, which makes Uig a far better choice, not least for dreamy Uig Lodge, with its beach-view rooms and home-smoked salmon (uiglodge.co.uk).
Ferry-hop across islet-scattered Sound of Harris and weave southwards, stopping to check out Barpa Langais Neolithic cairn on North Uist and at deserted beaches on Benbecula and South Uist as the mood takes you. Another ferry crossing gets you onto Barra, where Castlebay is home to an offshore castle and Castlebay Bar for whisky and – often – live music.